❝ The battered U.S. coal industry is showing flickering signs of life. Yet the prognosis for Big Coal remains dim.
Coal prices are about double what they were a year ago. Rail car deliveries of coal are up 16 percent this year. The more than 50 coal mining companies that went bankrupt over the past couple of years have unloaded billions of dollars of debt. And President Trump has vowed to roll back environmental regulations that the industry says are part of a “war on coal.”
❝ But the obstacles on the other side of the ledger remain daunting: Coal-fired power plants continue to shut their doors. Bountiful supplies of U.S. shale gas are keeping natural gas prices low and competitive, and renewable sources of power generation are growing rapidly. Though most experts expect U.S. coal sales and output to top last year’s levels, they also expect the decline to resume in 2018.
“The coal industry is saying it’s back. It’s not back,” said Tom Sanzillo, director of finance at the Institute for Energy Economics & Financial Analysis. “This is a fool’s errand.”…
…Metallurgical coal will be needed to make steel in India and China and in the United States, especially if there is a boost in infrastructure spending. And thermal coal will still be used to generate electricity for years, even if at lower rates.
But to show profits, coal operators will have to trim output from the oldest, least-efficient mines in Appalachia (where Trump garnered crucial votes in the election) and shift their focus to the Illinois Basin and the Powder River Basin in Wyoming.
Those big open-pit mines need fewer workers — doing nothing to help Trump bring back jobs for “our great miners.”
And if you’re shipping open-pit coal to China and India, there are operations in existence – and/or getting ready to come onstream in Australia – that will have a lot less freight added into costs than the black stuff from North America.